On the Move: Our Increasingly Temporary Workforce

It’s said that we are living in a time of changing job formats—fewer full-time positions and many more part-time or freelance arrangements. If you’re not married or the heir to a fortune, this could pose a problem as most part-time, freelance or contract (whatever terminology you want to use) jobs don’t come with health benefits. Even with health-care reform, that could cost a “free agent” employee hundreds of dollars per month to pay for on his or her own.

Whatever the pluses or minuses, however, it’s a trend we can’t deny, notes Jay Prag on the Daily Bulletin: “…the workplace has changed over the past decade. Many more jobs are part time, temporary or what’s being called “project based.” People are no longer working for one company for most of their life but rather they are consultants and other free agents who are employed by a company only until some project is completed.”

In addition to the consequences to the individual who is stuck (or privileged) to be freelancing as a temporary worker, there are consequences for the permanent employees the contract employee works with.

First, it changes the company’s culture to have a rotating door of temporary co-workers rather than a long-term “family” of colleagues whose flaws and strengths everyone becomes familiar with. Everyone has their particular ticks and oddities, and contract workers are no different. Having too many of these temporary employees means a company runs the risk of work groups never reaching maximum productivity and efficiency because just as everyone becomes familiar with everyone else’s quirks, the employee lineup changes and you’re surrounded by strangers again.

On the plus side, a new cast of employee characters means fresh ideas and new perspectives constantly coming on board. However, for many of us (especially introverts), having to get used to new people at least a few times a year in our work group is disorienting. It’s a distraction to have to so often start over with a co-worker, explaining (yet again) how work processes are done and how the company culture works.

A compromise is something a fellow writer once described as “perma-lance,” meaning she was a freelancer, but a freelancer who was so long-term she was essentially a permanent employee. This was before the financial disaster of 2008, so she was optimistic that this gave her an inside edge over conventional, full-time employees. She figured it gave her adaptability in the job market, rather than being at the mercy of one employer. When the financial collapse did occur, however, she found no such luck. The same companies who were ridding themselves of full-time employees also had no use for her services. So, it would seem that contract employees have an advantage when the economy goes south, but that is not necessarily the case.

I should say at this point (if you haven’t figured it out already) that I’m biased against the freelance, contract, free agent, perma-lance arrangement. Not only am I a single person in need of a benefits package, but I feel that unless you’re married to a person with financial security and/or are the heir to a great fortune, not having permanent employment is a recipe for constant anxiety. If that were my current status, a worry would always be at the back of my mind, making me wonder how much longer the company I’m doing work for will need me. A permanent, full-time employee also can have these worries, as you never know when you’ll get laid off, but, by its openly temporary nature, the freelance arrangement sparks these concerns even more.

People who are anxiety-ridden and insecure about their professional life usually don’t put in their best work. Wouldn’t it be better to spring for the benefits package and other expenses associated with permanent employees, and have workers who know they’re in it for the long haul—and show their appreciation for that security with stellar service to your customers and clients?

Does your company use temporary employees? If not, why not? If so, how do you integrate them with your full-time, permanent employees to ensure uninterrupted productivity?